Starbucks is considering an end to the “open bathroom” policy at its stores due to mounting concerns about public safety, CEO Howard Schultz said.
Schultz said Starbucks was exploring whether to alter the policy, which allows non-customers to use store bathrooms, due to a nationwide “mental health” problem that was posing difficulties for the coffeehouse chains’ employees.
“There is an issue of, just, safety in our stores, in terms of people coming in who use our stores as a public bathroom,” Schultz said during a New York Times DealBook event Thursday. “We have to provide a safe environment for our people and our customers. The mental health crisis in the country is severe, acute and getting worse.”
“We have to harden our stores and provide safety for our people,” Schultz added. “I don’t know if we can keep our bathrooms open.
Starbucks has allowed open use of its store bathrooms since May 2018. The Seattle-based company implemented the policy after an incident at a Philadelphia store in which police arrested two Black men after a Starbucks manager denied them from using the bathroom and accused them of trespassing.
At the time, the company announced that “any customer is welcome to use Starbucks spaces, including our restrooms, cafes and patios, regardless of whether they make a purchase.”
Starbucks apologized for its handling of the incident and closed all of its US stores for one day to conduct racial-bias training. The company also reached a financial settlement with the two men.
Starbucks representatives did not immediately return a request for further comments on Schultz’s remarks.
Schultz has served as Starbucks’ interim CEO since April after the retirement of the company’s old boss, Kevin Johnson.
Schultz, who is in his third stint as Starbucks’ top boss, is tasked with leading the company’s response to a growing labor movement among its staffers.
Individual Starbucks stores in New York and other states around the country have voted to unionize in recent months, citing a desire for better treatment and benefits. Starbucks has faced allegations of union-busting in response to the movement, but the company denies wrongdoing.